My first day I was immediately put to reading background material on Chixoy Dam and the impact it had on surrounding communities, the atrocities that occurred as a result of its construction including 2 infamous massacres of the Río Negro community whereby 74 and 177 people died respectively (mainly women and children), eyewitness testimonials of individuals, letters to and from the World Bank.
I’ve arrived to Guatemala at the perfect moment: the culmination of all efforts to present a well-documented report in order to seek reparations has come. The goal is to have a final report by August, which will serve as a base for requesting negotiations with the World Bank and other parties involved.
Rights Action, along with other NGOs, is helping to put together this report which is aimed at not only identifying those who actually committed the atrocities and bringing them to justice, but also at the international institutions who funded the construction of the dam, allowed for the displacement of various communities, did little to adequately compensate them, and “overlooked” human rights abuses.
My task was to organize all this information and properly index it. As of now, reparations and resettlement have gone as far as displacing community members of Río Negro to the village of Pacux, which is a small area of land at the edge of Rabinal (4 hours north of the capital), with wood board shacks, dirt roads, almost no electricity and barely any running water. This is in total contrast to the rich fertile land the community used to live on which is now flooded by the dam’s basin.
I got to see this first-hand on my 3rd day, when we drove 4 hours through the beautiful lush green mountains of Guatemala to Pacux and met with the leaders of the affected communities (ASCRA – association of indigenous Maya Achí of Rabinal). Our group consisted of me, Annie and Iñaki from Rights Action, and Monti who had just arrived from California representing International Rivers Network.
Monti has been working directly with Barbara Johnston, the lead investigator for the Center for Political Ecology who is also in charge of putting together the final report.
Our meeting took place outside under the shade of nearby trees, with all of us sitting in old school desks and a whiteboard at the front, documenting our meeting step by step. These community members came from many different communities, some 6 hours away, just to be a part of this whole process and have their voices heard. I have never seen such camaraderie, respect and warmth among a group of people. And this extended to me.
When I introduced myself, everyone clapped and smiled and said welcome, welcome. It was so heartwarming it was almost heart wrenching, considering what these people have been through. Many had had their wives and children massacred, some had seen it with their own eyes. And they still wore the biggest smiles on their faces.
Each community member went up to the front and discussed the steps their community had taken in distributing letters to various institutions in order to create awareness and seek support. 4 of the communities were writing books detailing their history and chronicling events that had occurred.
Although it was a strategic meeting, which under US-business circumstances could have taken 3 hours, add in culture, introductions, greetings and goodbyes to all the compañeros and compañeras, time for each member to voice questions and concerns or offer suggestions, lunch and dinner, and there go 8 hours.
As the evening dawned upon us and I talked to my family on my new cell phone, which actually works perfectly in the village, several community members waited for me to get off so they could shake my hand and say goodbye. I have never felt so welcomed in my entire life. I feel so lucky to be working with these community members and will soon be formally situated in Rabinal, working with them on a daily basis.
The next few days included a trip up to Cobán to gather some more documentation for our report, and a trip back to Guatemala City to do some additional legwork. Today (June 2nd) we received news that for the first time ever, the World Bank has released documentation that has been consistently requested regarding the construction of Chixoy Dam. The first CD is in the mail.
This is a huge victory for not only Rights Action and the organizations working on behalf of the affected communities, but for the communities themselves…finally their voices have been heard.
Posted By Carmen Morcos (Guatemala)
Posted Jun 4th, 2004